Over the years the balance of power has shifted in F1. During the years of the Jean-Marie Balestre FIA presidency, drivers and teams felt the FIA was too dictatorial. This led to the rise of Bernie Ecclestone who championed the cause of the teams and the commercial interests of the sport.
Then as with all dictatorships, Bernie acquired huge power due to his ability to drive more money into the sport and he became known as the ‘F1 supremo’.
The current decision making in F1 is now split equally between the teams, the commercial rights holders and the FIA. The F1 governing ‘Commission’ now comprises the regulatory arm of the FIA, the commercial rights holders Formula One Group (FOM), and the 10 teams. Each of the three groups has 10 votes, and a super majority of 26 is required for changes in F1 to be agreed.
The commercial rights holders are persistently looking to drive more revenue and recently proposed an increase in the number of Sprint races from the current 3 per season to 6.
Sprint race weekends have competitive ‘on track’ action from Friday through Sunday and provide the race promoters with a better opportunity to sell tickets on the Friday for qualifying sessions. This in terms will feed into the team’s wealth as a share of the profits.
The FIA currently receives $40m a year from F1, but under the poor leadership of their previous president Jean Todd, made a loss of $27m last year and given the payment structure from FOM, the FIA do not benefit from incremental Sprint race weekends.
At last month’s meeting of the F1 commission it was proposed by FOM and the teams that the number of Sprint race weekends be increased from 3 in 2022 to 6 in 2023, but the FIA blocked this proposal. New FIA president Ben Sulayem told the Mailsport, “I support the races if it is the right thing to do. I’m not saying it is the wrong thing. I am saying there is time to decide. This is for 2023, not this season. Our house isn’t on fire.
“We have what is called a democracy: Formula One (Group) have a vote, the teams have a vote, I have a vote. If you then say I can’t abstain or take time to study the proposals then you are not allowing me the freedom of democracy.”
The new FIA president was accused in a leak to the press following the most recent F1 commission meeting of ‘greed’, but insists this is not so. “I did not ask for more money but if I had I would have wanted to use it in the right way – to invest in the proper regulation of the sport.”
“We say Formula One is the pinnacle, and it is, so we at the FIA need the resources to govern the technical and financial side of a billion-dollar sport in a manner that respects that. We need the capability to observe those standards.
“So, specifically with regard to the sprints, I have to see whether my team on the ground can absorb the extra workload the races would entail.
“After Abu Dhabi (when Lewis Hamilton controversially lost the title to Max Verstappen) people said we should change this or that.
“So I don’t understand why we would suddenly ask the FIA team to do more. An incident happens in the future, such as one involving a safety car, and then what?
“We need to look into all this and make a sensible decision. Let us run our operation. We are going to fix it.”
However, the train of thought from Sulayem is strange. The Sprint weekends do not provide for an extra session on track as Practice 3 is replace by the Sprint race. This requires no extra governance from the FIA officials and the marshalls work for the love of the job.
Yet the teams and FOM appear not to be able to have their cake and eat it. If Sprint races bring in more revenue, then the FIA appears determined to get their slice.